During the Great Depression, participating in dance marathons was a very popular activity. Couples would enter and dance nonstop for hours, days, weeks, or months, and audiences would flock to watch and cheer on their favorite team. The winning couple would receive some prize money, and in the meantime, the contestants would be fed and sheltered for as long as they endured. If you've never heard of this, or you're not up on your 1930s history, you might want to read up on the horrors of the Great Depression before renting They Shoot Horses, Don't They? If you don't really understand how desperate and hopeless these dance contestants felt, you might not be able to appreciate Robert E. Thompson's and James Poe's screenplay. The characters in the film act like condemned gladiators who will do anything to entertain the crowd before getting thrown into the lion's den. They stay on their feet no matter the cost, whether it's their health or dignity. They sleep while dancing, leaning on their partners, and one woman enters the contest while pregnant because she has no other prospects.
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is incredibly bleak. There are no happy parts to the story; this isn't a two-sided view of the famous walkathons of the Great Depression. The camera captures the up close and personal horrors the contestants experience, backstage and in front of the audience cheering in the stands. The audience is shown cheering when horrible things happen to the dancers; they treat them like animals in a horse race. Sydney Pollack directed the movie, and while it would have been easy to film it in a sensational, flashy manner, he chose a bleak approach. The colors are muted and dusty against the cheery façade of the event, and the sweaty and haggard faces show through the performance makeup.
Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Susannah York, Red Buttons, Bruce Dern, Robert Fields, and Bonnie Bedelia are the featured dance contestants, and Gig Young is the MC. Everyone gives a superb performance, and Fonda, York, and Young were honored at the 1970 Oscars. Sydney Pollack was also nominated for his outstanding direction, as were the costumes, art direction, adapted screenplay, music, and editing. I've seen this film three times, but it isn't for everyone. It's extremely heavy and upsetting. But if you like movies that fall under the "people are terrible" mantra, like Network or The Great Gatsby, you'll be in a good position to appreciate this well-crafted film.
Kiddy warning: Obviously, you have control over your own children. However, due to some upsetting content, I wouldn't let my kids watch this movie.
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
Gloria is a young woman of the Depression. She has aged beyond her years and feels her life is hopeless, having been cheated and betrayed many times in her past. While recovering from a suicide attempt, she gets the idea from a movie magazine to head for Hollywood to make it as an actress. Robert is a desperate Hollywood citizen trying to become a director, never doubting he'll make it. Robert and Gloria meet and decide to enter a dance marathon, one of the crazes of the 1930's. The grueling dancing takes its toll on Gloria's already weakened spirit, and she tells Robert that she'd be better off dead, that her life is hopeless - all the while acting cruelly and bitterly, alienating those around her, trying to convince him to shoot her and put her out of her misery. After all, they shoot horses, don't they?
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September 07, 2017 at 06:34 AM